Party needs young visionaries, not old wine in new skins

S'thembiso Msomi Without the Gang
ANC flag.
ANC flag.
Image: PHILLIP NOTHNAGEL

The past weekend brought to the fore a political tendency that has been slowly gaining ground in the ANC.

The first signs of it emerged in the run-up to the party's national conference held in Mangaung, Free State, in December 2012.

Back then there was intense lobbying by two influential groupings. The first was supportive of then ANC president Jacob Zuma running for a second term and wanted former ANC Youth League president Malusi Gigaba elected into a top-six position in the party.

The second grouping wanted then ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to ascend to the top party job and for another former ANC Youth League leader, Fikile Mbalula, to become the secretary-general.

Both lobbies were selling Gigaba and Mbalula as representatives of a younger generation in the upper echelons of the party, whose presence at this level of leadership would mark the beginning of the transfer of power from those who joined the Struggle in the 1960s and 1970s to the "young lions" of the militant 1980s.

Both campaigns bombed, for different reasons. Gigaba did not even make the nomination process - a victim of the wheeling and dealing within the pro-Zuma camp. Mbalula lost the vote at the conference to Gwede Mantashe.

Ahead of last year's national conference, a number of former ANC Youth League leaders and activists held behind-the-scenes meetings in a bid to reignite the campaign for younger leaders.

However, they had left it too late and it was clear that the only slates were those headed either by Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Both of these slates had largely excluded candidates from the post-1990 ANC Youth League.

If the past weekend is anything to go by, it seems the former youth leaguers have learnt from the past and are starting their campaign for the next national conference, scheduled for 2022, early.

They won convincingly at the party's KwaZulu-Natal conference. In Gauteng, although their candidate for the deputy chairmanship, the economic development MEC Lebogang Maile lost to education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, the "young lions" ended up dominating the newly elected provincial executive committee.

A similar trend is expected when other provinces hold conferences in the coming years.

What this tells us is that the 2022 conference is likely to be a generational battle between those who cut their teeth in politics fighting apartheid and those whose contribution largely began after the ANC was unbanned.

On its own, this is a good thing. For a country with a young population, it is high time a more youthful crop of leaders emerged, especially in the governing ANC.

Our history is full of examples of how younger generations infused new energy into our politics, leading to progress. Think of the Anton Lembedes and the AP Mdas of the 1940s; the Steve Bikos and Barney Pityanas of the 1970s as well as the young lions of the 1980s.

However, all of these previous generations stood for something and clearly articulated their vision.

What do these former youth leaguers now vying for power in the ANC have to offer that is different from the current crop of party leaders?

Unless they start answering this question convincingly, they will leave most of us with a suspicion that theirs is a "Phuma Singene - Our Turn to Eat" mission that has ruined many post-colonial societies.

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